Responding to Calls with Suicidal Suspects: Practical Command and Psychological Considerations

Responding to suicidal individuals is an increasingly common occurrence in law enforcement work. Based on a 2008 Bureau of Justice Administration report an estimated 3 to 7 percent of all police calls for service result from factors related to mental illness, and these calls are often overly time consuming.1 As cited in a recent IACP publication aimed at improving police response to persons with mental illness, “A number of studies also document that persons with mental illness are more likely than those without mental illness to come into contact with police as suspected offenders, most often for relatively minor offenses, and to be re-arrested more frequently.”2 This article examines factors to consider in responding to calls with suicidal suspects. Included are command considerations and psychological considerations, as well as the impact these calls can have on involved personnel. Practical pointers for police chiefs are included.